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Thursday, August 10, 2023

Climate Musings

 On Monday, a severe storm system swept through parts of the eastern US.  The DC area was expected to be hit hard.  Federal government offices closed early to allow their employees to get home safely (as a former govvie myself, I'm going to say that this was a very big deal).  Metro ran additional trains to help get people home in a timely fashion.  Our electric company even emailed us to warn that power outages were likely.  We were in no mood for a power outage, having lost power the previous week in another severe thunderstorm for about 11 hours.  There wasn't anything we could do, so we hunkered down and hoped for the best.

It made me think of Hurricane Fran from 1996.  I grew up in Chapel Hill, NC, which is inland and very rarely experienced severe damage from hurricanes.  On a Thursday afternoon, my high school canceled all after school activities (marching band practice, for my purposes) and canceled school for the following day.  I thought I had really lucked out, having had it with both marching band and school as a whole.  A missed marching band practice and a day off for some rain and a few downed tree limbs?  Yes, please!

Well, we woke up the next morning to find that four large trees had fallen on our car and that we had lost power.  I think the only reason we slept through the destruction was sheer exhaustion.  When we checked in on some retired neighbors, it turned out that had been up much of the night, terrified.  I forget how many days it took for power to be restored, but it was definitely multiple days. A complicating factor for us was that losing electricity meant losing water, so I remember trips in a rental car to a local creek to fill up buckets of water to flush toilets.  Let's just say my naivety regarding severe weather and closings/cancelations ended then and there.

In the end, with Monday's storm, we ended up being very lucky.  We kept power and damage in our immediate area was minimal.  But this was on the heels of a more destructive storm and part of a summer of horrific climate disasters around the world.  The environment has been my number one issue since my teens, and I have long been upset that we collectively have not been doing more to change course.  Up until recent years, I think most of us thought we had more time before we started to see severe effects of climate change, but now they are here and we are all living these effects one way or another.

Particularly in the US, a lot of blame goes to the government for not taking more action.  To be fair, there have always been some people in the government who have tried, but they have been overruled by others, many of whom I suppose thought they would be dead soon enough anyway, and were happy to leave a climate disaster to their children and grandchildren whom they profess to love.  Others have been in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry (where is campaign finance reform when we need it?).  But I am increasingly frustrated with individuals who seem to believe that government inaction is some sort of free pass to be as wasteful of resources as they want.

I'm not writing this to be sanctimonious.  I certainly have room to improve in this regard.  But there are choices we have made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as living in a smaller home, driving a hybrid vehicle, using mass transit when possible (I, for instance, use it to commute to work every day), and composting.  I have no idea why the health of the one planet where humans can live has been so politicized, but for what it's worth, I live in a fairly liberal area, and am continually blown away by both the number of gas guzzlers on the road and the number of people who refuse to use mass transit, even in an area that has pretty decent mass transit options.

Regardless of what the government does or does not do to try to save us from manmade climate disaster, we owe it to ourselves--and to the younger humans in our midst--to try.  I wrote previously about the success of our community composting program.  When enough people decide to do something, it makes a difference.  

Saturday, July 15, 2023

A Clean Bill Of Health, Part 2

 I had alluded here to my saga of the breast lump that was biopsied and found to be benign in early 2022.  The radiologist who did the biopsy told me I could consult with a surgeon to see about it being removed, but I figured it wasn't bothering me, so I wouldn't bother it.  I thought it was the end of the story.

Not quite.  I had a mammogram in April and learned that the offending lump had grown larger since it was biopsied.  The radiologist strongly recommended that I have it removed.  I, the person who spends a lot of time trying to persuade children to "use their words," responded with a series of monosyllabic grunts.

I met with a surgeon in May.  He explained that if the lump continued to grow, it could press against nerves and cause discomfort.  Also, this type of benign lump (a fibroadenoma, if anyone is interested) could sometimes obscure more problematic things.  Fortunately, since they felt it was most likely benign, they allowed me to have the surgery after the school year ended so I could recover without missing work.  I scheduled the surgery for the week after school ended.

This surgery was my first time having general anesthesia, so that was an experience in and of itself.  I still think it's truly amazing to have no recollection of anything that happened during the surgery.  The surgery itself was quick and successful.  With my lack of experience with surgery, I had a constellation of weird symptoms in the immediate aftermath that I spent a lot of time googling, including blurry vision and general allover poofiness.  There were other symptoms that I expected, like a sore throat from the breathing tube, and general fatigue and wooziness for several days.  Amazingly, the pain at the surgical site was very manageable throughout.

I had a follow-up appointment with the surgeon last week.  The lump was indeed a fibroadenoma, like they thought.  Also, there were no abnormal cells in the tissue surrounding it, so the news seems very encouraging.  I was happy to receive another clean bill of health, and hope this is truly the end of this particular saga.

Monday, June 26, 2023

The Things That Made The Difference

 At the risk of promoting materialism, I will admit that sometimes things make a positive difference in our lives.  These are some recent acquisitions that have actually lived up to the hype, in my opinion:

  • New bath sheets.  For anyone who shares my generally low level of expertise on household linens, bath sheets are really large bath towels.  Middle age has brought some horizontal growth, and our old, average size bath towels were not easy to fully wrap around my body when I got out of the shower.  The bath sheets are much cozier.  As a bonus, since we hadn't purchased any new towels in several years, I was reminded of how much softer new towels are.
  • Loop ear plugs.  Nope, I'm not making any money for promoting them, but decided to put in the brand name in case anyone else has any need for good ear plugs.  They're definitely more expensive than the drugstore foam kind, but they are much more effective in blocking noise and nearly always stay in my ears overnight.  The main reason I got them is because Stella is an exceptionally noisy cat.  These don't completely block her nighttime news bulletins, but if I'm already asleep, they sometimes muffle them enough that she doesn't completely wake me up.
  • Linen pajamas.  This is sort of a cheater acquisition because I made these (although I did have to purchase the linen I used!).  My previous cooler weather pajamas consisted of a knit top that had gotten very stretched out and knit pants with a waistband that had lost all of its elasticity.  I wanted something prettier, with pants that I did not have to continuously hike up.  I'm very happy with these.  The pants stay up without the waistband digging in.  The linen is cozy without being too hot.  And, since I made them, I got to choose the color (it reminds me of the "periwinkle blue" that I had in my crayons box as a kid).
  • Click and grow garden.  There I go dropping brand names again, with no hope of any compensation.  Basically, it's a tabletop indoor gardening system.  My intention is to write an entire post just about it at some point (though my recent blogging track record doesn't make that seem promising).  To give it a quick synopsis now, it does make it possible, and even easy, to grow plants inside, without needing to be by a window or taking up a lot of space.  We love our home, but since space is at a premium, I'm happy with any company that figures out how to do cool things on a small scale.
May everyone's new acquisitions not disappoint!

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Wrapping Up The Year Of Plague And Pestilence

 So...I may be writing this prematurely.  My school district is on spring break, but after that, I still have the last part of April, all of May, and the first few weeks of June to get through.  But because I'm rushing toward the ultimate prize of summer break, I'm going to count this time as "wrapping up the year."

In some ways, it's been a great year.  After the disappointment of so many sub-part speech-language pathologist jobs, it was a relief to become a salaried employee again, with a union that secured a raise for us, no less.  Working in the schools can be overwhelming, and my experience was not without its problems, but on the whole, I've enjoyed it more than I thought I might.  As an interesting bonus, a lot of the kids in my school come from Spanish-speaking homes, so I've gotten a chance to speak Spanish on a regular basis again.

What hasn't been great has been the near constant rotation of illnesses and ailments I've had.

To be fair, the first major health problem of the school year was a severe allergic reaction that left an extremely nasty rash on my torso (I still have splotches on my skin months later!).  I can't blame the allergic reaction on the kids or the crowded conditions at my school, but it does contribute to my perception that I've spent about half the year recovering from something.

Other than that, though, I'm completely blaming the kids (they produce so much snot!) and the conditions in my building.  After my rash started to subside, I caught two colds in quick succession.  I was feeling cocky after spending January mostly healthy, and then got hit with Covid in February.  I spent the first part of March healthy, only to catch something that rapidly developed into bronchitis.  Only now, during my spring break, can I say I feel completely recovered from that.  At this point, having exhausted most of my sick leave for the year, I'm wondering if we're far enough into spring that I'm relatively safe from any more illnesses.

I'm also wondering in horror if every year will be like this one.  I've gotten conflicting messaging on that point.  My doctor said this was a particularly rough year for everyone as far as respiratory viruses were concerned.  A long-time teacher at my school echoed this sentiment, saying that she had gotten sick so many times this year that it felt like it was her first year of teaching again.  On the other hand, one of the administrators told me she thought there was something unhealthy about our building, and that when she was still teaching, she used to get bronchitis twice a year(!).  

So, wish me luck.  When I go back to work on Monday, feeling rejuvenated from a week off, I'd like nothing better than to experience a spate of good health stretching until at least the end of the year so I can comfortably wrap up the considerable amount of work I have to get done.  And I'm hoping I can continue to refer to this year as the year of plague and pestilence, rather than calling it just another school year.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Thus Concludes My Annual Pathetic Scavenger Hunt

 At the beginning of every new year, I start watching for tax documents and create a "pile" area for them.  We pay an accountant to do our taxes, mostly because I really hate paperwork and seek to avoid it whenever possible, but there is that preliminary step of giving him something to work with.

I've written about my employment ups and downs here before, but suffice to say, this was a year that generated three(!) W2s for me.  I wasn't excited about the prospect of watching for all three of them, and was imagining the awkwardness and tedium of having to contact previous employers for my tax documents.

Well.  Turns out I needn't have worried because my two previous employers of 2022 sent my my W2s in a timely fashion!  It was my current employer that fell down on that essential task!

If there's one thing I don't like about the school district where I work that I really think I can blame on the district itself, it's the complete chaos with all matters related to HR or payroll.  In theory, we have a self-service website where we can take care of some things ourselves; in practice, it's highly glitchy and often requires intervention from someone in HR anyway.  It took me weeks--and multiple emails to HR--to change my transit benefits allocations earlier this year.  At a previous job, I could change my transit benefits allocations at will, on my own, online.  Anyway, the lack of a W2 is another example of this chaos, but even worse is that it wasn't obvious whom to contact to complain.  My email directory showed multiple emails for payroll.  I started emailing them, and eventually one got back to me to say that I needed a different payroll office.  Naturally, that office has not yet responded to my email.

I value the service our accountant provides and have no objection to paying him.  However, at the same time, I'd prefer to not have to pay additional money for him to file for an extension for us.  I emailed him today and asked what options we had in the absence of one of my three W2s.  He suggested that I send him my final pay stub from December and then follow up by sending him the W2 if I ever receive it.  I'm happy to report that recovering my pay stub was something I was able to accomplish on my own on my employer's self-service HR website.  I mailed our accountant the documents today and am happy to no longer have a pile of tax documents in my line of sight.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Valentines Day Was A Wash, Figuratively And Literally

 This Valentines Day may not rank as one of our best of all time.  Scott and I are still recovering from Covid, though we both went back to work this week.  We gave up on the idea of eating in a restaurant on Valentines Day years ago, but we often look forward to buying some treats at the supermarket and having a simple meal of "special occasion" foods at home.  This year, we're both still struggling from a loss of appetite and an inability to eat much at a time.  This has been a particularly baffling symptom to me, since my life generally revolves around food and I spend and inordinate amount of time planning what I'm going to eat.  Suffice to say, we are ordering a Peruvian chicken dinner tonight, a very nice meal to be sure, but not one either of us thinks of as an occasion meal.  I guess the good news is that by the time we recover, the Valentines crowds will have cleared out of the restaurants and we can eat wherever we want.

As for the literal part of today being a wash, the last kids I worked with today were kindergarteners.  One of them had some glittery slime, which she had gotten from her teacher, allegedly for being good.  I spent much of the session trying to get her to put it away and keep it put away.  When it was time to take her to dismissal, I noticed that her shoes were untied and decided to tie them for her.  In a clear example of no good deed going unpunished, she took that opportunity to smear her slime on my back.  Needless to say, I was not pleased.  I was hoping it would peel right off, but of course it didn't.  The website I consulted about this predicament helpfully mentioned that glue is one of the ingredients in slime, which makes it particularly hard to get out of clothing.  (This website also framed this problem as one of getting slime out of kids' clothing, probably supposing that adults are too dignified to end up with slime on their clothing).  Anyway, slime removal has been my major project this evening--very romantic and sophisticated, I know.  I've had early encouraging results from soaking the slimed area in white vinegar.  I'm hoping for an ultimate triumph to this wash of a day when the shirt comes out of the laundry.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Pandemic Daze: Then The Plague Visited Me

 I didn't fully understand this when the pandemic began, but there hasn't been (and likely never will be) a point at which it is truly "over."  For many of us, myself included, life has largely returned to some sort of normal, but Covid continues to be a monkey wrench in our plans.

My officemate wasn't feeling well toward the end of last week, but she had tested negative for Covid, so she still came in because there was plenty of work to do that wasn't going to take care of itself.  However, on Friday evening, after losing her sense of taste and smell, she retested and got a positive test.  She texted me to let me know.  I, in turn, texted some friends who I had planned to see on Saturday to see how they felt about seeing me after I'd been exposed to Covid.  We decided to have a video chat instead.  But by the next morning, I wasn't even feeling well enough to do that.

Considering the number of people I'm around in my job, I've been lucky to have held out so long without getting Covid.  I actually think there's a possibility that I had it at the end of 2019 (when it was apparently already circulating in the US, but nobody knew what it was), but I haven't had any confirmed Covid infections up until now.

I feel pretty lousy.  I haven't been sleeping well, and have a splitting headache I can't get rid of.  Still, so far, this hasn't been one of my worst sicknesses.  Whatever I had at the end of 2019 was worse, for instance.  This would indicate to me that the vaccines are doing their job in making symptoms milder.

Even though our lives have largely returned to normal, Covid still gets special status among diseases.  The earliest I can return to work is next Monday, and that's only if I haven't had a fever in 24 hours and don't have severe symptoms.  My direct supervisor tells me I can do telework if I feel up to it, which I may do later in the week so I can at least keep up with some paperwork and virtually attend a couple of meetings I have.

I wonder if there will come a time when Covid is treated like any other sickness.  But I'm grateful that my main concerns right now are being uncomfortable and inconvenienced, rather than worrying that I might need to be hospitalized.